Friday, June 17, 2016

Making Homemade Bone Broth

Lately, everyone’s talking about bone broth. Neighborhood stores like “Brodo” in New York are opening up selling it, and cookbooks are springing up left and right devoted to it. Is this a fad? What is the big deal about broth?

Well, there’s a very compelling reason to make it. Let me tell you why.

For one thing, bone broth is tremendously nutritious. People have been cooking down bones for centuries. There’s a reason why the Jews call it “Jewish Penicillin”. It kicks ass. According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, bone broth:

1. Reduces joint pain and inflammation, courtesy of chondroitin sulfate, glucosamine, and other compounds extracted from the boiled down cartilage and collagen;
2. Inhibits infection caused by cold and flu viruses;
3. Promotes strong,  healthy bones because of its collagen;
4. Promotes healthy hair and nail growth, thanks to the gelatin in the broth; but most importantly, for me anyway,
5. Acts like a soothing balm to heal and seal your gut lining.


The gelatin found in bone broth is a hydrophilic colloid that attracts and holds liquids, including digestive juices, thereby supporting digestion.

But there is one caveat:


I just had to capitalize that, to get your attention. The broth you buy at the supermarket does not have nearly the amount of nutrients, let alone flavor (and that’s what we’re all about on this site: nutrition and flavor!) that homemade broth contains. And there is absolutely no reason why you can’t make this yourself at home for a fraction of the cost of the store-bought stuff. Store-bought is expensive!

Here’s what you do. We’re going to make Chicken Broth because it’s my favorite. I’ve tried using beef bones (yuk) and pork bones (double yuk) and I’ve decided to just stick with chicken bones. But use whatever you like.  Over time, you’ll begin to discover what flavor combinations you like best.

Let’s say you’re into roasting your own chicken. Preferably you’ve got an organic bird. You’ve had dinner and taken off just about all of the meat. What’s left is a carcass that you would probably just toss. No need to waste it! We’re going to put it to use. This chicken is going to be recycled! (If you didn’t roast your own chicken, no worries. You can do this with a store-bought bird).

Take your bird carcass, add chunks of yellow onion, a couple of roughly chopped carrots and celery stalks, a bay leaf, a little salt and freshly ground pepper, maybe some herbs like rosemary and thyme, a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar (very important, I’ll tell you why in a bit), and throw all this into your slow cooker, adding enough filtered water to cover everything,  Set it on low, do the dishes, watch some TV, and go to bed.

The next morning, ignore it and go to work, leaving the slow cooker on. Yes, I’m serious.

When you come home, your house is going to smell heavenly. Turn off the slow cooker and let it come to room temperature. Strain out all the bones and vegetables, and divide the liquid into jars that you can use right away (refrigerating those), and freeze the rest in some freezer-friendly storage containers if you won’t be making a big pot of soup in the next few days.

What you have before you is a pot of gloriously deep golden broth, something that could never be achieved in the store-bought varieties. In comparison, commercially produced broth virtually chases the chicken through the water and out the other side. This broth that you just made has a complex bouquet of flavors unrivaled by anything on the market. Just look at it! It’s golden color is rich and full of life-giving goodness.

Just make it once. Please. I beg you. You will not be sorry. It will be the most delicious thing you could possibly add to any soup, or sauce, that you make.  It will add tremendous flavor to just about anything. If you eat rice or quinoa, use the stock in lieu of plain old water. You will be adding nutrients as well as flavor. If you have a day when you’re not feeling so good, ladle out some broth, maybe add some well-cooked veggies and just have that for dinner.  So soothing and delicious!

Now, the reason you want to add ACV (apple cider vinegar) is because it pulls nutrients out of the bones and into the broth.

Now, go fire up your slow cooker and make some Brodo.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Tools of the Trade: Cast Iron Cookware

I recently inherited a couple of pieces of cast iron cookware from my in-laws. They were big lovers of it and cooked with it regularly. They had short-sided skillets, tall-sided skillets, Dutch ovens and grill pans. A good sized inventory to choose from. I didn’t really grow up with cast iron, so it wasn’t something I sought out simply because I wasn’t familiar with it, but I’ve come to see the benefits of cooking with it and regularly use the pieces I’ve acquired.

Cast iron cookware, being made exclusively of metal, has excellent heat retention properties. It withstands and maintains high cooking temperatures which is ideal for searing or frying, and its excellent heat retention is good for long cooking stews or braised dishes especially those calling for meat.

Cast iron cookware has been used for over 2000 years, and as early as the Han Dynasty (206BC - 220AD) for salt evaporation. In Europe, before the introduction of the kitchen stove in the middle of the 19th Century, meals were cooked in the hearth or fireplace, and so all cooking vessels had to be designed to be suspended on or in a fireplace. Cast iron pots were made with handles to be hung over fire or with legs to stand up in the fireplace. Cooking pots and pans became legless (with flat bottoms) when stoves became popular. It was then that cast iron skillets were introduced. A neat little website I found describes what cooking in “the old days” was like for women.

The cookware was especially popular during the first half of the 20th Century. Lodge Manufacturing is currently the only major manufacturer of cast iron cookware in the United States, as most other suppliers use pots and pans made in Asia or Europe.

“Seasoning” protects bare cast iron from rust and creates a non-stick surface, eliminating the need for regular non-stick cookware which gives off toxic fumes when heated. So you could say that cooking with cast iron is a healthier option than many of the non-stick products on the market. Because of its non-stick surface, cast iron is a good choice for egg dishes. Some cast iron is formed into special shapes, the most popular of which is a mold that resembles corn on the cob, and is frequently used for making cornbread.
Silicone sleeve for hot handles

Because they are cast as a single piece of metal, including the handle, they can be used both on the stovetop as well as in the oven. But be careful, the entire pan gets hot, including the handle. This is where the use of a silicone slip-on handle cover comes in handy.

An ADA study found that cast iron cookware can leach significant amounts of dietary iron into food.  While this sounds distasteful, it’s actually quite healthy. However, the amounts of iron absorbed varied greatly depending on the food, its acidity, water content, and how long it was cooked.  But for this reason, anemics may benefit from this effect, while those with hemochromatosis (iron overload) should avoid using cast iron because of their condition.

Because it is a metal, cast iron cookware needs to be seasoned, which is a process by which a layer of animal fat or vegetable oil is applied and cooked into the cast iron. How to do that can be found aplenty on the internet. Basically it’s “cooking" it in a low temp oven for about an hour upside down.

Cleaning is another special consideration. It cannot be placed in a dishwasher but must be washed by hand. Ideally one also should not use soap, or if one does, then after drying re-apply a thin layer of fat or oil.

An easier way to enjoy cast iron is by purchasing enameled cast iron. It has a vitreous enamel glaze or coating which prevents rusting, eliminating the need to season the metal, and allowing for more thorough cleaning. But for that, it is considerably more costly to purchase than cast iron. I wouldn’t mind a Le Creuset Dutch oven myself, but they are typically over $200. Depends, like anything else, on how lazy you are. Cast iron cookware is quite reasonable but requires a little more hand-holding.

Either way,  if you don’t already own cast iron or a fancy enameled pot or pan, and you’re looking for a pan or two, consider adding cast iron to your collection.  You will find many uses for it. Cast iron  will last you a lifetime, and provide you with something useful and meaningful that you can pass along to your children. Thank you, Doris and Ken.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Grain-free Crackers

When people with digestive troubles hear that they should give up wheat, as it could be the cause of their trouble, either due to a possible celiac condition or simply a food intolerance, they inevitably switch to GF (gluten free) flour for their baked goods. Sadly, many times their symptoms actually worsen, as was the case with me. Due to the high starch content of nearly all gluten-free flours, if you suffer from digestive problems, you might want to consider completely removing them from your diet, at least for a while, until you get your symptoms under control. That’s exactly what I have done and I feel so much better!

But this is a drag, to say the least, as your baking options have now shrunk considerably. But it’s not completely impossible to enjoy muffins, breads, and crackers again. Two options are coconut flour and nut flour!

One of the most versatile nut flours available is almond flour. There are 2 types of ground almond products on the market - almond flour, and almond meal. Almond flour is made by taking blanched (skinless) almonds and pulverizing them into a very fine powder. Almond meal is made from whole, ground raw almonds - a heavier product than almond flour. If you’re intending to bake muffins and cakes, the lighter blanched almond flour would be preferable, as it will result in a lighter, fluffier product. But when you’re making crackers, it doesn’t matter much. 

When I started omitting starchy things from my diet (once I regained my appetite!), I started to really miss crackers. I enjoy crunchy things, especially when I have cheese. When I got the cookbook, "Against all Grain" from Danielle Walker, I was excited to see a recipe for crackers. Not just a regular boring old cracker, but a rosemary and raisin cracker - something that sounded like it would go so well with my new favorite cheese: English Coastal Cheddar! 

I have been making these almost weekly for months now, so that I have nearly a steady supply! One batch lasts me about a week. Even if you’re not on a grain-free diet yourself, you could benefit from reducing your reliance on wheat-based products and make these every so often. They are really a lot healthier than wheat crackers or even rice crackers, as wheat disagrees with a lot of people and I do believe that eating too much wheat can lead to an eventual wheat allergy, and rice frankly has no nutrition worth talking about. It’s really just all starch. Why not eat more nuts? Nuts have fat, which makes us feel fuller (as opposed to rice, which is like eating air), plus they have fiber and minerals.

Blanched Almond Flour

These are easy and quick to make - from start to finish, it’ll take you maybe 20 minutes. But do stick around the kitchen while these are baking though because, being nuts, they can burn easily. You can make these with 100% almond flour if you like, or 50% almond flour and 50% almond meal. I’ve tried them both ways and it doesn’t make any significant difference because crackers are not meant to be fluffy. Plus the meal adds a little more fiber if you need more of that in your diet! For a twist, you can substitute some finely grated Parmesan cheese for 1/2 of the flour, omit the raisins and seeds, and replace the rosemary with thyme. That’s pretty tasty, too, especially when topped with a sliced tomato. 

Anyway, on to the recipe.

Rosemary Raisin Crackers

1 cup blanched almond flour
2 Tbsp. raisins
2 Tbsp. cold water
1 Tbsp. raw sunflower seeds 
1 sprig rosemary
1-1/2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place all ingredients in a food processor. Process for 15 seconds or until thoroughly combined with small bits of speckled raisins throughout.

Form the dough into a ball then roll it out to a rectangular shape, 1/8 “ thick, between 2 sheets of parchment paper.

Remove the top sheet of parchment. Use a pizza cutter to cut the dough into 1 inch wide rectangles. Transfer the parchment paper to a baking sheet. 

Bake 12-15 minutes, rotating the pan once until crackers are golden. Check to see how they are doing - you want golden, not brown.  You may also want to turn the oven temp down if it’s looking like they are browning too quickly. 

Let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then carefully break the crackers apart. Cool completely before serving.

Recipe courtesy of Danielle Walker from her cookbook, “Against All Grain”.

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