Chicken Stock – An Easy Kitchen DIY!

I am a soup lover from way back. I eat it most days in the winter and it is one of my favorite things to cook when the weather gets chilly. Homemade soup is often much healthier than soup from a can and it tastes so much better. Even though I love to make soup, it took me years to get up the guts to try making my own stock. It seemed like the people who I saw doing it were chefs on TV and that’s just not me.

I jumped the hurdle and did it myself and was pleased to find that it really is easy and the stock tastes much richer than what I was buying at the grocery store. Here is a link to a general guide on making your own stock. The guide involves making a few choices, here are the exact steps I took. My apologies for the extra-long blog, but I thought you all would want the details!

1. Put bone-in chicken pieces in the bottom of a large pot. I used a mix of thighs and breasts because that’s what I had. I used about two pounds or so. You can use bones from roasted chicken instead of chicken pieces, but since I wanted the chicken meat, I went ahead and used pieces. chicken in pot
 2. Add a few carrots, a few ribs of celery, a garlic bulb cut in half the long way and two large onions (I used three because mine were tiny). You can add other root vegetables like turnips or parsnips if you have them. This is a great use up for veggies that may be getting close to spoiling. Just clean the veggies, there is no need to cut them up, they’re going to get strained out anyway.  veggies in pot
3. Fill the pot with water so the vegetables are covered.
 4. Top off with herbs and spices. I chose the following:

  • 2t dried parsley
  • 2t black pepper
  • 5 bay leaves
  • 15 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 5 sprigs fresh rosemary
 herbs 1
 *Note: fresh herbs are not necessary, dried versions of these herbs would have been fine too. I just happened to have them growing in a pot on my back patio. If you choose dried, use two teaspoons thyme and 1 teaspoon rosemary. You’ll see I didn’t include salt. This is because the recipes I use this stock for will call for salt and I can add it at that time. I can keep the sodium in my recipes down if I don’t salt it twice.
5. Pop a lid on the pot, bring it to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and let it go for about two hours. In the meantime, enjoy the awesome aroma!  lid on pot
6. Once the stock is finished cooking, fish out the chicken pieces using a pair of tongs and set them aside to cool. Once cool, remove the skin and bones and refrigerate the chicken for your next recipe.  chicken chopped
7. Once the stock has cooled a bit, place a large strainer over an even larger bowl and pour the stock through the strainer. The big pieces of vegetables will get caught in the strainer and they can be discarded. You’ll be left with beautiful golden stock. Having a helper for this step is a good idea. My apologies for no picture of this step, I got a bit distracted with trying not to burn myself!
8. At this point, you’ll want to refrigerate or freeze your stock. Once it is cold, the fat from the chicken will harden and you can spoon it right off.  fat on top
9. You’re ready to use your homemade stock for soups, steaming vegetables, cooking rice or thinning sauces.  strained stock

Let’s be honest, it took a while to make my own stock, but most of the time I was able to do things around the house. I didn’t need to tend the stock for the full two hours and my homemade stock is healthy, delicious and inexpensive. I made six quarts of stock for about $10. The stock at my grocery store costs about $2.50 per quart, so six quarts would cost about $15. It feels good to know I can do it myself. I hope you’ll give it a try!

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek is a State Nutrition Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She coordinates ISU’s programs which help families with low income make healthy choices with limited food budgets. Christine loves helping families learn to prepare healthy foods, have fun in the kitchen and save money. In her spare time, Christine enjoys cooking, entertaining and cheering on her favorite college football teams with her family and friends.

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Pre-Made vs Homemade Lunch-Sweet and Sour Rice

sweet and sour riceWhen it comes to eating lunch at work, I have a few options:

  1. Take my lunch.
  2. Go out to eat.
  3. Raid the vending machine. (note: this never turns out well!)

Of these choices, my preference is to take my lunch to work because I save money and know that I’m getting the nutrition I need. Most often what I take for lunch is leftovers. When I don’t have anything to take for lunch, I do occasionally eat out but that can get expensive and the portions are usually more than I need.

I’ve tried those frozen meals for one. I don’t know about you, but those just don’t fill me up! I end up looking for chocolate by 2:00. Not only are they kind of skimpy for my liking, but they also tend to be high in sodium.

I decided I could make something similar to those frozen meals to have on hand that would provide me with better nutrition and fill me up for less money. Looking at our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. recipes I chose to make Sweet and Sour Rice. Rice dishes tend to freeze well and this recipe is easy to make.

The recipe makes 5 servings that I easily packed into freezer-safe containers and froze until I needed something quick to grab and take for lunch. I put a container in the refrigerator at work the morning I planned to eat it for lunch so it could thaw some before I reheated it. The cost per serving (2/3 cup rice and 1 ¼ cup topping) of the Sweet and Sour Rice is $1.39, less than a frozen meal. Here is how they compare:

sweetandsourrice Chart

The homemade sweet and sour rice takes more time, there’s no denying that. But I am left with food for the whole week that I feel really good about eating. For me, 25 minutes is not a big commitment to know that I have healthy lunches all week. The homemade Sweet and Sour Rice has 50 more calories and 2.5 grams more fat but the amounts are right on target for me to have for lunch. In addition, with the higher fiber and protein in the homemade meal, it is more filling. After eating the homemade Sweet and Sour Rice, I will be less likely to look for a sweet or salty snack in the afternoon. One big plus for the Sweet and Sour Rice dish is that I can use whatever veggies I want. This is a great use-up for veggies that might otherwise not get eaten.

Do you have a favorite dish you love to eat leftover for lunch? Share it with us on the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. Facebook page!

Jodi Signature

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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Save time with Freezer Meals

freezing leftoversToday my 4-year-old son started preschool. That means summer has officially ended. While I’m a bit sad that summer has ended, I’m looking forward to our schedule getting into a more regular routine. However, I also know life will continue to be busy with activities. Therefore, I spent some time in my kitchen a couple of weeks ago preparing some meals to freeze. I enjoy freezing meals ahead of time because:

  • When I am busy I can have a meal on the table in just a few minutes.
  • I am less likely to run to the drive thru or buy convenience food that isn’t as healthy for my family.
  • My husband (not a fan of cooking) can make dinner on his own because all he needs to do is reheat.

 

When planning what dishes I would make, I browsed through the recipes on our Spend Smart Eat Smart website. I wanted to be sure to select recipes that used a variety of protein sources and flavors. The recipes I decided to make were Chicken Fajitas, Ham and Brown Rice, Sloppy Joes, and Mexican Chicken Soup. I also thought it would be nice to make a couple of recipes that would help us have a quick, healthy breakfast. For these dishes I chose Scrambled Egg Muffins and Crispy Granola.

frozen meals blog

After I had the list of recipes I wanted to make, I looked through my cupboards, refrigerator, and freezer to see what ingredients I already had on hand. Some of the items I already had were chicken broth, eggs, onion, frozen peas, carrots, a couple of peppers, different spices, and hamburger. I then made a grocery list and bought the other ingredients that I needed the day before I planned to do my cooking.

I started the morning of my cooking day by chopping vegetables that I needed. Three of the recipes called for onions and peppers so I chopped those so they were ready for each of the recipes. I also chopped some broccoli for the Scrambled Egg Muffins. My family doesn’t like cooked celery so I chopped carrots to use in the Sloppy Joes in place of celery.

I made the Scrambled Egg Muffins first so they could bake while I started on the other dishes. This recipe is easy to double so if you have a larger family or just want to freeze more muffins that can easily be done.  The Ham and Brown Rice makes 9 cups so it could be split and frozen separately to get two meals if your family is smaller.

The Sloppy Joes and Chicken Enchiladas were easy to make. I just cooked the meat and vegetables for each recipe to freeze. When we are ready to eat them, all I have to do is warm them up and have the other ingredients ready to go to assemble the sandwiches or fajitas.

The Mexican Chicken Soup and Granola simmered and baked while I made the other recipes. It only took me about 3 hours to make all of the dishes and get them packaged to freeze and I have 5 meals ready to go in my freezer (Yes, my children were out of the house. Otherwise it would have taken me double the time to get this doneJ) I froze the egg muffins individually until firm so they wouldn’t freeze together, then I put them in a plastic bag in the freezer. The other dishes, I let cool for about 20 minutes at room temperature before putting in plastic bags, labeling, and putting in the freezer.

For best quality when freezing food, use containers that seal well and keep air out. If using plastic freezer bags, be sure to press out the air before sealing. Air is what causes freezer burn. Check out our ‘How to Freeze Leftovers’ video for more information on freezing food. For best quality, use frozen food within 3-4 months.

I’m looking forward to the nights this fall when I can come home from work and will just have to heat up one of the meals for supper!

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Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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What I have learned being part of the SSES Team

I joined the Spend Smart Eat Smart Team as a junior here at Iowa State University, a little over a year after I no longer had an on-campus meal plan so I was buying my own groceries and preparing my own meals. I liked to cook but struggled when it came to knowing how to budget my spending on groceries as well as how to reduce food waste in my kitchen.

I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to work, grow and learn both professionally and personally through this job experience. Because this is my final blog post as a part of the Spend Smart Eat Smart Team I thought it would be appropriate to share with you a few lessons I’ve learned through working on this team as well as my favorite Spend Smart recipes.

One of the biggest lessons I have learned through working with the Spend Smart Eat Smart team is how to use my freezer in a way that saves me time, money, and stress.
1. Buy frequently used items in bulk when they are on sale to save money.

frequent frozen items

Rather than buying frequently used frozen items at full price when I need them or occasionally getting lucky with a sale, I watch for the sale and then purchase multiple packages. This saves me money in both the price of the actual item as well as a trip to the grocery store because I already have it on hand.  See the table below for recommended freezer storage time.

freezer storage chart

“Freezing and Food Safety.” Food Safety and Inspection Service. USDA, 15 June 2013. Web. 30 July 2014.

2. Freeze leftovers or make a meal specifically for freezing with a future hectic day in mind.

As a college student I had a few hectic days (the group project meeting that was suppose to take an hour and ended up taking 3….) that left me staring into my refrigerator at 8 pm – starving, grumpy, tired and wondering what to eat. While it is hard to control things not going as planned, it is not hard to plan dinner for those days! I learned to simply freeze a portion or two of leftovers or I would anticipate a stressful week and prepare and freeze an entire meal. Nothing was better than coming home exhausted from a long day and knowing I was a few minutes away from having a delicious home cooked meal.

Soups, Enchiladas, and Ham and Brown Rice are my go-to freezer meals.

Finally, I thought I would highlight my top 7 all-time favorite Spend Smart recipes (my top 10 would spill the beans about upcoming recipes so stay tuned!!). If you are looking for a budget friendly, delicious, quick meal definitely check these out.

1. Quick Pad Thai
2. Pan Fried Tilapia with Orange Sauce
3. Whole Grain Cereal treat
4. No Knead Whole Wheat Bread
5. MmmmmGood Fruit Pizza
6. Ham and Brown Rice
7. Chocolate Surprise Cupcakes

I’m excited to take the lessons I have learned and recipes with me to Peoria, IL as I begin my dietetic internship. I look forward to keeping in touch with Spend Smart Eat Smart via the Facebook page.

-Liz

2014 ISU Dietetics Graduate

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek is a State Nutrition Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She coordinates ISU’s programs which help families with low income make healthy choices with limited food budgets. Christine loves helping families learn to prepare healthy foods, have fun in the kitchen and save money. In her spare time, Christine enjoys cooking, entertaining and cheering on her favorite college football teams with her family and friends.

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Are Steamer Bags Worth the Money?

frozen vegetablesI’m all for increasing the amount of vegetables in the diet. Vegetables provide nutrients we can’t get from other foods plus they are low in calories and high in fiber. I also think frozen vegetables are a great value. They are usually flash frozen right after they are picked so they may have more nutrients than fresh vegetables that have spent a long time traveling across the country. Sometimes they are less expensive than fresh vegetables, and they are already cleaned and prepared.

A few years ago manufacturers began selling frozen vegetables that can be microwaved in the bag they are sold in. Microwave steam bag vegetables are supposed to be a healthy solution for those who want to increase their vegetable intake without sacrificing convenience. These “steamers” have gotten so popular that it is hard to find frozen bags of vegetables that are not “steamers”.

I just don’t get why these are so popular!

1)  They are more expensive.  An ounce of frozen mixed vegetables in the steamer bags in central Iowa cost between  $.10 to $.14 an ounce. While the same food in plain plastic bag cost $.08-.09 ounce.  (Sometimes the bags cost the same, but the “steamer” bags had only ¾ as much as the plain bags).

2) I can’t see that they save much time or save washing dishes. 

a. The advantage of frozen bags of vegetables has always been that you could take out just what you need and put the rest back in the freezer. With “steamer” bags you have to cook the whole bag to get the steamer effect.  I think this leads to wasted leftover vegetables.
b. Unless you serve the vegetables in the plastic bag you still have to get a container dirty.

I cook frozen vegetables without the aid of this specialized packaging. All it takes is a microwave safe serving bowl and some ordinary plastic wrap or a lidded microwave-safe container. I put about a cup of vegetables per person in the bowl, add about 1 tablespoon of water, cover and cook on high 2-5 minutes, depending on how much is in the bowl. If you’re unsure how much time is needed, start at two minutes. Keep cooking the vegetables for an additional one minute at a time until hot.

Before you jump on the steaming bag trend, make sure you compare the price per ounce and think about whether it will really save you time.

 

Berry Buying and Storing

berries 2Spring signals gardening, baseball, bike rides, sandals, and BERRIES.

Blueberries, cranberries, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries not only are delicious, but they are also top in antioxidants, fiber, and vitamins. (Antioxidants may help increase our immune function and protect against cancer and heart disease.)

Purchasing Berries

Berries (except for cranberries)  are “in season” in late spring and summer which means they will be less expensive now than other times of the year.

When buying, look for firm, plump, full-colored berries. Avoid buying bruised or oozing berries. Turn the container over to check berries at the bottom. Berries don’t continue to ripen after harvest, so when choosing strawberries stay away from green or yellow ones.

When I see a good deal on berries, I buy extra and freeze them. To freeze, put a single layer on a cookie sheet and put in the freezer. When frozen, put them in a freezer bag. This way they don’t freeze together and you can take out just what you need.

Storing Berries

When you get berries home, cover and refrigerate them but wait to wash them until you are ready to use them. This way they will hold for several days. To wash, put the berries in a colander and spray with clean running water and then spread on a paper towel to dry.

How to Serve Berriesstrawberry cut

Try to serve berries au natural so you don’t add a bunch of calories to them. Here are a few ideas:

  • Put some in a plastic container to eat as a snack or lunch on the go
  • Add to a bowl of whole grain cereal
  • Make a yogurt parfait
  • Sprinkle on salads
  • Make fruit kabobs along  with other fruits such as pineapple chunks, bananas, and grapes.
  • Add to frozen ice cream or yogurt
  • Make smoothies

 

For more information about berries, here is another resource:

Selecting, Storing, and Serving Ohio Blueberries, Blackberries, and Raspberries

 

Peggy Signature


Sweet and Sour Rice Dinner

My daughter shared with me that she spent the afternoon helping her friend make meals to put in the freezer. Her friend has young children, a new job, and a husband who has to be out of town a night or two each week. It sounded like the girls had a great time working together plus they came up with several meals that will be ready to go on hectic nights.

Our featured recipe this month, Sweet and Sour Rice Dinner, could be doubled or tripled for make ahead meals. The recipe includes ingredients for a tasty sweet and sour sauce but you could also use a bottled version if you prefer. The dish goes together smoothly if you measure and prepare all ingredients ahead of time.

If you have already cooked chicken to use just cook the sauce ingredients (step 6) and stir in the chicken and veggies. Cook for about 5 minutes to heat and serve over rice.

All you need to make this a full meal is some fruit and a glass of milk.

Sweet and Sour Rice Dinner

Serving Size:  2/3 cup rice, 1¼ cup topping

Servings:  5

Ingredients

  • 16 ounces chicken (skinless, boneless)
  • 1 bag (16-ounce) frozen stir-fry veggies
  • ¼ cup prepared sweet and sour sauce
  • OR make your own mixture
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1½ tablespoon reduced sodium soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 2 cups instant uncooked brown rice
  • 1 can (8-ounce) pineapple chunks with juice

Directions

  1. Cut chicken into ¾ inch pieces. Wash your hands thoroughly.
  2. Remove stir-fry veggies from freezer to thaw.
  3. Optional: Make sweet and sour sauce. Mix the sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl. Stir in water, soy sauce, vinegar, and ketchup. Set aside.
  4. Heat oil in skillet over medium heat. When oil is hot, add chicken and cook until done. Remove chicken to a bowl and set aside. Set frying pan aside.
  5. Heat water for rice to boiling. Add rice. Let rice cook according to the package directions.
  6. Return skillet (used to cook chicken) to the stove. Add sauce ingredients from above. Cook over medium high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly OR add the prepared sweet and sour sauce.
  7. Stir in the pineapple (undrained), vegetables, and chicken. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cook about 5 minutes.
  8. Serve chicken and veggie mixture on top of the rice.

Crispy Salmon Patties

I grew up on a farm in northwest Iowa.  My dad raised hogs, beef, soybeans and corn.  Guess how many times we had salmon when I was growing up.  That’s right,  NEVER.

Fresh, frozen and canned fish now is much more available and I enjoy it regularly.

The American Heart Association recommends eating two servings of fish, especially oily fish, at least twice a week. Examples of fish relatively high in omega-3 fatty-acids include salmon, trout and herring.  In the last few years I started enjoying salmon, both frozen and canned.  At first I was dismayed by the appearance of canned salmon because the skin and bones were included, but now when the salmon is drained and combined with the other ingredients I don’t notice them.

Our Crispy Salmon Patties are very easy to make plus they are one of my “Go To” recipes (the ones you always keep the ingredients on hand and are fast).   When you make these try to move the patties as little as possible so they don’t break apart.  I freeze any leftovers and take them for lunch.  Besides providing great protein one salmon patty provides as much calcium as a glass of milk!

Crispy Salmon Patties

Serves: 6
Serving Size: 1 Patty
Per Serving: $.52

Ingredients:

  • 1 (14.75-ounce) can salmon, drained
  • 1 egg
  • 1 slice whole wheat bread, shredded, or 5 crushed saltine crackers
  • 3 green onions, including the green stems, or 1/3 cup white onion, chopped fine (about 1/3 medium onion)
  • 1 medium garlic clove, minced, or 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Dash black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon seasoning (paprika, chili powder, or dill weed)
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil or olive oil

Directions:

  1. Mash any cooked bones and skin in the salmon.  Break into chunks with fork.
  2. Break egg into a large bowl. Whisk with fork. Add salmon, bread or crackers, onion, garlic, pepper, and additional seasoning. Mix gently.
  3. Form into 6 patties about ½ inch thick.
  4. Heat oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Place patties in hot oil skillet. Leave skillet uncovered. Cook 3 minutes. Turn over patties with a spatula. Cook the other side 3-4 minutes to a temperature of 145° F.
  5. Serve immediately. Makes a good sandwich with whole wheat bread, tomato, lettuce, and onions.

http://recipes.extension.iastate.edu/2011/12/19/crispy-salmon-patties/

Want to Make Salsa?

salsaThis morning I got an email from my sister:

“Want to make salsa with the big tomatoes from the garden?  How about Friday night?”

I found a great publication called Preserving Food: Sensational Salsas on the University of Georgia website. It not only has several tomato salsas, but also directions on how to can Mango Salsa, Peach Apple Salsa, and Spicy Cranberry Salsa.

It is true that we have lots of gorgeous tomatoes and, with all the sun and heat, they are ripening faster than usual.  We need to do something with them in addition to eating our fill and giving them away.

Canning, freezing, and making salsa are the best alternatives I can think of.

Here is my chart of pros and cons:

PROS CONS
Freezing tomatoes Fastest, no special equipment needed, can do in small batches. Heats up the kitchen when you blanch them, but not as much as the other methods. Freezing breaks down the cell walls so they are best used in soups and stews.  Uses up space in my refrigerator/freezer.
Canning tomatoes Good flavor and texture compared to frozen; stores on the shelf. Requires a water bath or pressure canner, and new lids (we already have canning jars or we would have to buy them also).Heats up the kitchen.
Salsa Makes a nice little gift if it turns out.Uses peppers and onions from the garden. Stores on the shelf. Requires processing in a hot water bath. Takes time to chop up the vegetables. Heats up the kitchen.

I am not sure what we will do with the tomatoes, but I am following the directions from a university.  I do not want to take the chance on wasting my time and energy with spoiled food.  If canning or freezing are your choice here is a link to Iowa State’s food preservation resources.

Directions Available for Home Food Preservation

Have you noticed the interest in home food preservation? Equipment sales are up, cookbooks are selling and home cooks, from beginners to experts, are enjoying the pleasure of canning, freezing, jams, jellies and drying foods.  Some are doing it for creativity or to give as homemade gifts.  Others want to control salt, sugar and other preservatives in the foods they eat. Some want to save money by preserving the excess garden bounty.

Whatever your motivation, it is very important to use reliable recipes, instructions and equipment.  I have been horrified by some of the directions I hear people sharing.  I know that home canned food can be dangerous and sometimes the food will spoil before it can be used. Years ago I used to teach food preservation and answer questions from the public.   I cringe at the time and money that is wasted by shortcuts or lack of research-based directions.

Extension Services across the country provide information on food preservation.  Check with your local extension service or look for resources at the National Center for Home food Preservation at the University of Georgia.

Here in Iowa our food and nutrition team has created a comprehensive course for people to learn about food preservation Preserve the Taste of SummerThis new program includes on-line courses and hands-on workshops.

Some Iowa counties will be hosting a program called Food Preservation 101:  This is a one-time program lasting from 1.5 – 2 hours.  It is free and gives people some basic information about food preservation and a chance to learn about the Preserve the Taste of Summer course.  Check with your local office to see if it is scheduled.

Also, all the ISU food preservation publications have been revised with the most up- to-date information.  Download any or all of these for free from the ISU web site.

PM 1043 Preserve the Taste of Summer – Canning: Fruits
PM 1044 Preserve the Taste of Summer – Canning: Vegetables
PM 1366 Preserve the Taste of Summer – Canning: Fruit Spreads
PM 1368 Preserve the Taste of Summer – Canning: Pickles
PM 1045 Preserve the Taste of Summer – Freezing: Fruits and Vegetables
PM 0638 Preserve the Taste of Summer – Canning and Freezing: Tomatoes

Last year I made 10 batches of sour cherry jam.  My sister and I picked the cherries and pitted them.  We froze some for muffins and pies, but we made most of them into jam.  This took most of a day since jam is one recipe you don’t double.  The jam looked and tasted delicious.  Although I gave most of it away, I still have a few jars to spread on toast for a special treat.  It’s a good thing we made extra last year because this summer there were very few cherries on the trees.

 

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