Crock Pot Chicken

Some times I feel like I spend all day feeding everyone but myself. Between meeting the needs of a preschooler and a toddler, and nursing a constantly hungry newborn, I’m finding less and less time to cook. Add to that the fact that I’m not working this month (unpaid maternity leave) and both Brad and I are trying to start losing the baby weight, ordering in or going out is not really a good option either. Let me introduce you to one of my favorite kitchen appliances: my Crock Pot.

My crock pot is not glamorous. It is not new. It has definitely seen better days, and the lid used to have a handle. This is not due to lack of respect or a history of abuse. No, my crock pot is just showing wear much the same way my 4 year old’s beloved teddy bear is starting to look a little ragged around the edges. But a few trips through the washing machine have done little to lessen the attachment of my son to his bear, and the lack of a lid handle simply lends character to my hard working crock pot.

When the baby is crying and the kids are screaming and the cat has puked on the carpet again, it’s a comforting thought that dinner is cooking away with little to no effort on my part and when Brad gets home from work all that needs done is to dish it up. I also make my crock pot work double duty by cooking up large batches of dinners at a time and either freezing for a no-brainer dinner later, or keeping in the fridge for easy lunches and snacks.

Today I started with about a 5 lb package of boneless skinless chicken breast. I only buy these when they go on sale for less than $1.99/lb. Otherwise I get whole chickens to roast and make broth. I trimmed all of the fat from the whole package of chicken, placed them in the crock pot and generously seasoned with salt and pepper.

Some times I use a little poultry seasoning or rubbed thyme, but mostly I keep it simple since I’ll be using this chicken in all sorts of different recipes. I add about an inch of broth to the crock pot so it doesn’t dry out, and set it on high for about 4 hours. If you need it to cook longer, you can set it on low for 6-8 hours, and it should be done when you get home from work.

After 4 hours, you end up with this:

Fall apart tender, fork shreddable, juicy, tasty chicken!

This chicken now has the possibility to become: soup, burritos, stir fry, sandwiches, salad, lunches for Brad to take to work, cashew chicken, quesadillas, just about anything. Being already cooked, it makes dinner come together in a matter of minutes. Which is some times all the time I have between marathon nursing sessions that the baby likes to start right around 4:00 and continue up until bedtime. Hey, at least she sleeps at night!

The Miracle Cure

I apologise for my few and infrequent posts this week. When we got back from vacation, I came down with a cold. Not just any cold though. The type you can only get from the stale recycled air of airplanes where your lymph nodes swell to the size of golf balls, your head throbs, your body aches and all you want is a nice rock to crawl under until it’s all over. So my blog (not to mention my children) suffered from more than a little neglect over this past week. Which brings me to my post for today. I happen to know of a wonderful miracle cure that has been accredited with nothing less then resurrecting the dead. What is this wonderful stuff? And why did I not have any on hand last week? Well this miracle cure is home made bone broth, and unfortunately I had finished off the last of ours just before we went on vacation.

Bone broth is one of the most nourishing foods available. It is full of minerals in a for that the body can easily utilize, including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, sulphur and many trace minerals . It also contains all of the broken down material from the bones connective tissue and cartilage. Things like glucosamine and condroiton, which you’d pay an arm and a leg for as pills at the drug store. It also contains gelatin, which aids digestion and is high in protein.

I roast a lot of whole chickens at home, and I always make broth after picking all of the meat off the bird, so I almost always have home made bone broth on hand. I had turkey bones in the freezer from the turkey I roasted for Thanksgiving (only half the bones would fit in my crock pot at a time, so I threw the rest in the freezer for a second batch of broth) but bone broth is a 2-3 day process, and I just really didn’t feel up to it last week. So here is my bone broth process. It’s very easy, and is very worth the time.

I start with my crock pot. It can be done in a pot on the stove, but I like to cook mine for about 36 hrs, and I feel more comfortable leaving the crock pot on over night. Some people simmer all day on the stove, cover and turn the stove off at night, and then return to a simmer in the morning and simmer the rest of the day. Do what ever works for your situation. Into my crock pot goes 1 whole chicken carcass (or half a turkey carcass), veggie scraps, a splash of vinegar, a stick of kombu, a small handful of whole pepper corns, and one or two bay leaves. I put the lid on and set it to low, and let ‘er go. I usually start the broth in the evening after I’ve roasted a chicken for dinner, let it cook all night, all day, all the next night, and then strain and bottle it the next morning.

I keep a Ziploc baggie in my freezer for veggie scraps. As I’m cooking during the week, I throw all onion skins, carrot peels, celery tops, and sometimes potato peelings into the bag in the freezer to wait for when I’m ready to make stock. This way I get all the vegetable goodness into the stock with out having to use up “new” vegetables, and much less goes to waste. The vinegar helps to draw the minerals out of the bones and into the broth. Kombu is a kind of kelp seaweed, and is high in minerals including iodine. When I switched from iodised commercial salt to sea salt, which does not contain added iodine, I worried a little bit about my family getting enough of this important mineral so I started including the kombu in my bone broth to give it an iodine boost. After some more research I am no longer concerned about our iodine intake, but there is so much good stuff in the kombu that I still use it. I’ll do another post soon about iodised salt and our need for iodine. I do not salt my broth until I’m cooking with it. I find it easier to control the amount of salt this way. So here’s my broth after it’s been merrily simmering for about 18 hours:

Once it’s been simmering for about 36 hours, I strain it into a pot on the stove, and then boil it down to reduce the volume by about half. I do this mostly for space reasons. I reconstitute it when I’m ready to cook. Then I put it into canning jars, and into the fridge. Occasionally I can it, but usually not. It gets used pretty fast in my house. One crock pot full of bones usually yields about three quarts of stock for me. Here’s my stock after it’s been in the fridge for a few hours:

I remove the layer of fat on top right before I’m ready to use a new jar. It makes a nice seal over the broth and keeps it fresh longer. I stir all the sediment back into the broth. I figure it’s just the good stuff from the bones and connective tissue, and after a quick stir you can’t even tell it’s there. Notice how rich and brown this broth is. In comparison, the canned broth from the grocery store looks remarkably similar to pee. So don’t waste those precious bones from roasted chickens. You can even use the bones from the rotisserie chickens you get at the grocery if you’re not up to roasting your own. Grandma knew what she was talking about when she said chicken soup can cure anything that ails you.