Spiros, by now most of you have probably figured out that I like to cook.  And I like easy, delicious, quick recipes that let me enjoy a little time in the kitchen and then get back to quilting.  Soup is a great way to do that, but the key is the stock.  If it doesn’t have a lot of flavor, the soup will be BOR-ing!  Making soup stock is easy, and with colder weather just around the corner, it helps keep the house warm  Even though it takes a few hours to simmer, it cooks itself — while you are quilting.  A bowl of hot, homemade soup is such a great way to warm up when coming in from the chill — it rates right up there with snuggling up in a homemade quilt.

I have been making soup stock — usually from turkey or chicken bones — my whole life.  It always turned out to be this watery, flavorless stuff that hardly seemed worth the effort, but the frugal part of me wouldn’t ever let a good chicken or turkey carcass go to waste. Finally, this week, I consulted a cookbook. Three, in fact, to see if I could figure out the secret to good stock. And I found it: thyme and time. All three recipes included, in addition to the usual carrots, onions, celery and parsley I always used, a generous dose of thyme (tomillo, in Spanish, I learned from my current grad student, Nydia from Peru). So I tried using thyme — and time (letting the bones simmer uncovered, for 3-4 hours to reduce the stock) — and Voila! delicious stock. I also learned, don’t salt it before it reduces, since the salt will become more concentrated during reduction.

Here are the ingredients for my chicken stock.  My three sources: James MacNair’s Soups, Southern Living All-Time Favorite Soup & Stew Recipes, and Chez Nous, by Lydie Marshall.

4 to 5 pounds chicken, duck, turkey or other poultry bones, can also include giblets (except for liver!)
4 quarts cold water
4 large carrots, unpeeled
2-4 celery stalks with leaves, cut into 3-inch pieces
2 large unpeeled onions, cut into slices (James McNair also includes 2 whole leeks, split lengthwise, but I don’t usually have them around)
4 cloves of garlic, smashed
4-6 sprigs fresh parsley
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme or 1-3 teaspoons dried thyme (don’t overdo this — it’s powerful!)
1-3 bay leaves
1/2 – 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
Salt (add near end of cooking)

Southern Living adds 6 springs fresh dill or 1/2 teasoon dried dill (I didn’t put it in mine).

James McNair gives this Asian variation: Omit the vegetables and herbs. Add 8 thin slices unpeeled fresh ginger root and 4 green onion, include the green tops, cut into 3-inch lengths. Substitute Sichuan peppercorns for the black ones. [I have no idea what the difference might be, but maybe I’ll pick some up next time I see them at the grocery store.]

James McNair says to put just the bones into a pot, add the water and bring to a boil, then skim off the foamy scum that rises to the surface, before adding the vegetables and herbs. I’ve never tried this, but I think it probably makes for a clearer broth. Also, I’ve read that after the stock is finished cooking and you have removed all the solid stuff from the broth, you can stir in a beaten egg white to clarify the stock. I think it somehow “gathers up” all the little bits that get left behind.

Anyway, whether you do it at the beginning or, as JM says, after you have skimmed the foamy stuff from the top of the boiling bones, add the vegetables and herbs. Bring the pan to a boil and simmer for 3-5 hours. JM says it should be covered, but in my opinion, it reduces better if it’s uncovered. When it’s done, strain through a colander or large sieve into a bowl (several layers of cheesecloth make for an even clearer broth, since it filters finer solids than a colander does). Chill the broth, then remove any fat that hardens on the surface. If you wish, you can pick the remaining meat from the bones before discarding. (Sometimes I save the carrots too, and immediately put the meat, carrots and some broth, with some noodles, back on the stove to make chicken noodle soup.)

The broth will keep in the fridge for up to 4 days, but usually I freeze it as soon as it cools. I freeze it in 1-quart Ziplock freezer bags lying flat so they stack easily in the freezer and thaw quickly when I want to use them. Each bag holds 1-4 cups: I label each bag with the quantity so it’s easy to take the pre-measured amount I want out of the freezer when I need it.

Bon Apetite – and Happy Quilting!