Around here we say, “unfussy food from a fun-loving kitchen.”* Essentially, what that means to me is you can make great food at home without slaving away for hours or blowing your budget on fancy ingredients. The kitchen is a place where we should all feel free to make mistakes and make a mess, to play and focus, to relax and to express. If it isn’t fun, or at the very least rewarding, we won’t do it.
To me, there’s no inherent virtue in fussy. You know, three different curlique garnishes, half-a-dozen specialty ingredients, recipes that could fill a dishwasher with bowls and dishes just from the prep work? I don’t do fussy for fussy’s sake. But if the fuss is going to get me something, like crave-able onion rings, light, buttery popovers, or delicate almond cookies sandwiched with jam and chocolate, then I’m totally in.
I first tried making my own stocks and broths in graduate school because I was on a serious budget, and it was the frugal thing to do. Of course, I knew somewhere in the back of my mind that once I started making my own versions, I wouldn’t be able to buy the pre-packaged stuff anymore. Hours of slow-simmered goodness from your own stove, it’ll spoil you.
It’ll also make you feel worthy of your grandmother or [insert personal kitchen icon here]. Making homemade stock, which you can then use in homemade soups and stews, is the ultimate I CAN DO THIS moment. Make your own stock and see if you don’t feel like a bona fide, authentic, oh-so-capable blue jean gourmet!
Oh, and have I mentioned how easy it is? All you really need is an extended period of time at home so you can let the stock simmer and check on it from time to time. Four to six hours later, you’ll have a house that smells like heaven (warning: this can drive dogs craaaaaazy) and stock that’s richer and more flavorful than anything you can buy in a box or a can.
Of course, if you give a mouse a cookie, he’s going to want some milk to go along with it, and if you decide to make stock, you’re going to want to cook with at least some of it ASAP (freezing the rest for future use, of course). So I’m including an easy, hearty dinner soup recipe that will serve your new stock well.
Should you wish to go all the way with the “fussy but it’s worth it” theme, might I suggest you tackle the infamous Boeuf Bourguignon? Made famous by the fabulous Julia Child and then re-famous by Julie & Julia fever this year, it really is something you ought to make at least ONCE in your culinary lifetime. I made some this summer for Jill when I discovered she’d never had it. She’s still raving about it, I tell you.
More interested in chicken, chicken stock, & chicken soup? Don’t worry, we gotcha covered.
*Coming soon to a kitchen apron near you! Yes, really. Stay tuned.
To make your own beef stock, you can simply buy soup bones from a butcher or save the bones from roasts & steaks as you cook. If you are working with bones that have already been cooked, you can use a stovetop method: simply sauté all of the same vegetables listed below in a stock pot with some olive oil until soft & fragrant. Then add the water, bones, & seasonings.
4 lb. beef soup bones (uncooked)
2 red onions, quartered
3 carrots, chunked
3 ribs celery, chunked
3-4 garlic cloves, peeled & smashed
2 T tomato paste
1-2 bay leaves
fresh thyme or rosemary
salt & pepper
optional: splash of red wine
Place the vegetables on the bottom of a large roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil, then place the soup bones on top. Season everything liberally with salt & pepper.
Roast in the oven for 25-30 minutes, then transfer the contents of the roasting pan (plus any delicious, accumulated juices) to a large stock pot. Fill the pot with as much water is needed to cover everything, somewhere around 8 cups.
Toss in the herbs, tomato paste, & red wine (if using). Bring the mixture up to a boil, skimming off any foam that initially rises to the top. then let the stock simmer gently for at least four hours, allowing it to reduce.
Taste-test the stock before deciding it’s through. When you’re ready, strain the stock & save the meat from the soup bones for your dog or another purpose.
If you wish to skim the fat from your stock, the easiest way to do so is to refrigerate the finished stock in a large plastic container. When it’s nice and cool, the fat solids will rise to the top, making them easier to removed.
Me personally? I like fat. It tastes delicious.
Once thoroughly cooled, beef stock will keep well in the freezer for several months.
ITALIAN SAUSAGE SOUP
Inspiration for this soup comes from Jill’s mother—my version is a bit different, but like hers, it’s hearty, easy to make, & goes wonderfully with a pan of cornbread or sliced loaf of crusty bread. Like most soups, this one just gets better after a few days in the refrigerator!
The more flavorful the sausage, the more flavorful the soup. Splurge, if you can, on well-crafted product, preferably fresh sausage from a grocery counter (as opposed to something frozen or packaged wholesale). A tip—if you are a fan of parmesan cheese, save the rind! I always add them to my soups, especially this one, and they impart excellent flavor.
6 cups beef stock
1 lb. Italian Sausage (hot or mild—the choice is yours!)
1 onion, sliced
2-3 cloves garlic
2 bunches fresh or 1 package frozen spinach
2 cans chickpeas, drained
fresh (1 T each) or dried (1 tsp. each) basil & oregano
salt & pepper (1 tsp. each)
Slice or crumble the sausage into a tall, heavy-bottomed pot. Turn heat to medium and brown the sausage, in two batches if necessary. Transfer the browned sausage to a bowl with a slotted spoon.
Without cleaning the pot, add a bit of olive oil and cook the onions and garlic until translucent. If you’re using frozen spinach, you’ll need to thaw & drain it while the onions cook. If you’re using fresh, wash & dry it well before adding it to the onions & garlic, allowing the leaves to cook down quite a bit.
At this point, return the sausage to the pot along with the rest of the ingredients: stock, chickpeas, herbs, salt, pepper, & frozen spinach (if using). Bring the soup to a boil, then simmer on low heat for at least thirty minutes before checking for flavor and adjusting salt, if necessary.
Serve hot. Feel free to grate some parmesan on top—but only if you want to.