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JUST IN TIME FOR THE HOLIDAYS: PUMPKIN LOG

JUST IN TIME FOR THE HOLIDAYS: PUMPKIN LOG

I am not a fan of the entire pumpkin spice craze, the lattes and teas and candles and whatnot. I have a limited view of how pumpkin & its usual spices should be incorporated into food.

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For instance, this is wrong in so many ways.

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This, on the other hand, is funny.

Here is something I do approve of, seasonal, festive, and simple to make. I stole the recipe years ago from a blog on LiveJournal and have no idea who contributed it. It’s rather good and not nearly as difficult as you might think. This makes a lovely dessert for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or any holiday occasion.

I realize that while many people have heard the term jelly roll*, they have probably never seen, tasted, or made one, it being a bit passé like bar le duc, prune whip, and croquettes. Too bad, because those old-fashioned dishes are fun and tasty.  Jelly roll might be thought of as the American version of a buche de Noel.

*I am speaking of jelly roll in the culinary sense. There are other meanings which Urban Dictionary covers.

Before serving, dust with powdered sugar. You can go all festive and decorate the plate, as I did here for a Christmas party.

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To serve, cut into one-inch slices.

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Variations: Use almond, maple, or orange extract in the filling, or add grated orange peel. I really don’t think this cake should be frosted as it is quite moist and sweet already. Chocolate goes well with pumpkin so a dark chocolate filling could be substituted for the vanilla cream cheese filling.

TRI-TIP ON THE GRILL

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TRI-TIP ON THE GRILL

It’s Memorial Day weekend, which here in the US of A is considered the Unofficial Start to Summer, as well as being a three-day weekend. (I am glad my grandmother didn’t live to see this, as she would have disapproved of Decoration Day, as she always called it, being hijacked like that and not given proper respect.) It is also a huge weekend for outdoor  barbecuing, and tri-tip is going to feature on many grills around the country.

I don’t remember seeing tri-tip until about maybe 30 years ago when it suddenly became popular, and that’s because it wasn’t available. It was either made into ground beef or sometimes cut into steaks or stew meat (which is still how it’s treated in the rest of the world). But then in Santa Maria, California, a butcher took the bull by the horns (as it were) and created tri-tip roast – if you’re interested you can read all the details right here.

I wasn’t all that crazy about tri-tip for a long time because it was almost always overcooked and sinewy and tough. I did find a foolproof way to cook it in the oven, but when it’s a zillion degrees outside, turning the oven on is a last resort.

After beef being sky-high for months and maybe years due to the drought (no matter what Donald Trump says, THERE IS A DROUGHT), we suddenly noticed the prices tumbling, and especially the price of tri-tip. It was time to get some and figure out how to cook it on the grill, and that’s where the internet came in handy. I won’t pretend this is a method I dreamed up; it was blatantly stolen from The Tri-Tip Guy. It’s a good method and quite easy, though there are a few points that are really important to follow in order to not screw this up.

An instant-read meat thermometer is essential for this.

TRI-TIP ON THE GRILL

All tri-tips look about the same and weigh about the same. You can buy them “trimmed” of fat for a nominal fee, but get an untrimmed one and do it yourself.

They look like this….

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…until you flip them over and find a huge slab of fat.

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Get a sharp, long-bladed knife, and start at one end, pulling as you slice. The fat will peel off as you work. Don’t obsess over tiny bits of meat that may come off with the fat.

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You can go back and trim off any remaining large pockets of fat, which usually cause flare-ups on the grill.

Once you have your tri-tip trimmed, you can leave it as is or marinate it. We put this one in a bowl and poured low-salt soy sauce over it and added garlic powder and freshly ground pepper, and let it sit and think about things about a couple of hours.

POINT 1: Let the tri-tip come to room temperature.

Now get your grill going. For a gas grill, bring it up to 350. For charcoal or wood, you want a medium fire (to judge this, put your hand just above the grate without touching and count how many seconds you can hold it there – figure 6-7 seconds for 350).

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Point 2: Once the grill is up to temperature, put the tri-tip down and put the lid or cover on for 15 minutes.

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After 15 minutes, uncover the trip-tip and flip it over.

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Let it cook undisturbed for about 15 – 20 more, then start testing with the meat thermometer. Could take 20 minutes, could take 40 0r 50 minutes. Go with the thermometer reading. If you want, paint some barbecue sauce on the top when it’s almost done.

When the tri-tip is almost up to the temperature you prefer, remove it from the grill. (The temperature will continue to rise during the next step.)

Point 3: Wrap tri-tip in aluminum foil and let it sit 15 minutes. Do not skip this step.

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When you’re ready to slice the tri-tip – stop! Do not slice it the way you’ve been slicing – that is, slicing off the narrow ends.

Point 4: Slice it against the grain, across the widest part, and slice it thinly.

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Once you grill tri-tip this way, you’ll be converted to this method. It turns this tough cut of beef into a juicy and flavorful roast on the barbecue.

 

 

 

GUINNESS CAKE (WITHOUT CHOCOLATE)

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GUINNESS CAKE (WITHOUT CHOCOLATE)

My great-great grandfather was born in Ireland, but that was only because that was where the boat happened to be docked when his Danish parents were on their way to America and Mama Davison went into labor. From there he made his way to California, where he enlisted in the Union Army at a very small town called Volcano and later became the first mayor of Chico.

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I think he may be the gentleman in the second row standing behind the severe-looking woman with the white cap. Or maybe not.

 

At least, that was the story I grew up with.

It turned out to be only partly true, as I discovered recently when I did a little online research and found he had his own Wikipedia page and was also given space in an 1891 volume called  A Memorial and Biographical History of Northern California. Who knew? Not me, that’s for sure. He certainly set the bar high for his family, and I think I can safely say without fear of contradiction that most of his descendants never bothered to try to equal his accomplishments and good works. Underachievers R Us.

Anyway. Ireland. Guinness.

St. Patrick’s Day came by about a week ago. I made the standard American tribute to Irish food, corned beef and cabbage (which I believe is unknown in Ireland, but never mind). We had guests for dinner and I had planned to make Nigella Lawson’s Guinness Cake until I read the recipe and realized it was basically a chocolate cake: one of our guests is not a chocolate fan. I figured that someone out there on the internet had devised a recipe for a Guinness cake sans chocolate, and sure enough, I found one on A Beautiful Plate.

This was fun and interesting to make, and it was delicious to eat. Despite a cup of molasses and a cup of mixed sugars, it was not very sweet; it was more like a deeply mysterious velvety spice cake with only the suggestion of sweetness. I can’t imagine it appealing much to children or anyone who loves those ghastly Crisco-frosted bakery cakes from supermarkets. It looks fiddly, but the three parts (Guinness-molasses, egg-sugar-oil, flour-spices) are all easy to assemble separately and at your own pace. Just be sure you have them all completed before mixing the final batter. A couple of caveats:

  • Use a REALLY big pan to boil the Guinness and molasses together because when you add the baking soda, you will create your very own Hiroshima in the kitchen and trust me, you do not want to have to clean that up.
  • I used a microplane to grate the fresh ginger, and it takes a rather large piece of ginger to yield 1 tablespoon grated ginger. Don’t omit it: it really oomphs up the cake flavor.
  • Spray the inside of the measuring cup with nonstick spray before measuring the molasses: it will pour out much more easily.
  • I can’t think of anything that replicates the blackness, dark mineral taste, and satiny texture of Guinness. I suppose if you really had to, you could substitute very, very dark espresso coffee, but then you couldn’t really call it Guinness Cake, could you?

Slightly adapted from the original. This is best the day it’s made, but will keep for one or two more days.

GUINNESS CAKE

  • 1 cup Guinness
  • 1 cup  dark molasses
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3  eggs
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup  firmly packed brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup  vegetable oil
  • 2 cups unbleached flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons ginger
  • 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon grated ginger root

Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit. Grease  two 9″ cake pans (or spray with cooking/baking spray or a product like Baker’s Joy) . Line them with parchment paper and grease or spray them again.

Here I pieced parchment paper together to fit the pans, which works just fine.

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Pop open your Guinness. Measure out one cup and either drink the rest or recap with a cork. For God’s sake, don’t waste it.

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Combine the Guinness and the molasses in that really big pan, whisk together, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  It will start to foam up. This is not the time to walk away to answer the phone.

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Remove from the stove and whisk in the baking soda. It will foam way, way up. This is why you need a large pan.

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Let it sit and cool for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile:

Beat together the eggs with the granulated sugar and brown sugar, being careful to either dissolve or remove any teeny hard lumps of brown sugar. Then whisk in the oil, which will try to resist being incorporated with the eggs.

In a large-ish bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and all the ground spices, plus the grated ginger.016

Here is the only slightly tricky part:

Slowly pour the Guinness-molasses mixture into the egg-sugar-oil mixture. You do not want to pour it all at once: slowly pour in about 1/3 cup and then whisk it into the eggs thoroughly.  Again, slowly add about 1/3 cup more and whisk again. Keep adding and whisking until all liquids are combined. This is so you do not heat the eggs too fast and risk scrambling them – they need to be heated (“tempered”) slowly.

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Once that’s all done,  pour half of the liquid into the flour mixture and combine with a spoon.

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Then pour in the other half and mix until just combined and there are no pockets of flour in the batter.

Scrape half of the batter into each prepared cake pan. Bake  about 28 to 35 minutes. Do not open the oven door until 28 minutes has passed; this cake has a tendency to fall in the middle. Close the oven door carefully. When the cake is done, it will spring back when touched lightly.

Remove cakes to cooling rack for about 15 minutes.

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Remove cakes from pan. Invert each one carefully onto your hand or a plate and peel off the parchment paper. Re-invert and let cool completely on the rack.

The original recipe suggested a Bailey’s Irish Cream frosting, and you can do that if you want, but I personally can’t see whatever it is people seem to like about Bailey’s. It’s just a big bleah nondescript sweet creamy liqueur to me. I made a Jack Daniel’s frosting instead; cognac, rum, or other booze would work too. Or just flavor frosting with vanilla or almond extract.

Whiskey Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 4 tablespoons softened butter
  • 1 8-ounce bar cream cheese, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2-3 tablespoons whiskey of your choice

Combine softened butter and cream cheese, then mash in the powdered sugar (this takes patience and it looks like it won’t work, but go slowly and keep mashing the sugar into the cream cheese & butter) . Then add salt, vanilla, and whiskey; stir until combined. Taste and add more sugar or whiskey as you prefer. If this seems a little liquid-y, store in the refrigerator until ready to frost the cake.

This makes enough to frost tops of each layer. You can, of course, make more frosting to cover the entire cake, but I loved the look of the nearly-black cake with the white frosting.

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Let sit, covered, a couple of hours before slicing and serving. A few strawberries and perhaps a big pillow of sweetened whipped cream would go well with this.

 

 

 

BARBECUING YOUR DINNER

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BARBECUING YOUR DINNER

It’s the end of July and the cotton is high as an elephant’s eye, if you had any cotton. I don’t. I do know it’s hot and it’s gonna be hotter, so that’s when we do a lot of barbecuing.

In attempts to not heat up the house, we’ve been experimenting with cooking non-meat items on the grill, and it’s been pretty successful so far. Here are a few of the items we’ve made.

CORN ON THE COB

I know, everyone and their grandmother does BBQ’d corn on the cob, but they do too much work. You do not need to soak it, remove the silks, wrap it in foil, or any of those other tricks. You can trim off the excess silks at the end and maybe remove the stalk at the other end (which requires a cleaver or chef’s knife). Put the corn right on the grill.

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Turn them every now and then, letting the husks get brown all over.

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After about 25 minutes on medium heat, remove the corn. Put it in some sort of container like a shoebox and wrap with towels, foil, or newspaper to keep warm. This will keep the corn hot for at least 45 minutes.

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GRILLED EGGPLANT

Slice up your eggplant, peeled or not.

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Brush slices with olive oil (which you can add some seasonings to if you like) and lay on the grill.

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Brush occasionally with more olive oil. Flip slices as they brown (do not try to force them if they stick – they’ll let go of the grill when they’re ready).

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Remove slices to a plate when they’re browned and tender.

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FRUIT COBBLER

Summer fruit makes the best pie, but the the oven turned to 425 for an hour when it’s 118 outside is too much to think about. But fruit cobbler is easy on the grill. We used disposable foil pans, which (as it turned out) can be washed and reused several times.

Choose the sweetest, juiciest fruit you can lay your hands on. Here we used peaches and strawberries.

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Pour a little liquid into the bottom of the pan – apple juice, peach nectar, something like that. Keep the added sugar to a minimum because it tends to scorch like crazy.

Mix up a cobbler topping, either from scratch or from a mix like Bisquik – or even (for convenience’s sake) whack open one of those refrigerator rolls of biscuits. Spoon/scrape/lay the dough on top of the fruit.

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Put the cobbler on the grill and close the lid. The temp should be around 350 or a medium fire.

Check about every 10 minutes.

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When the dough is firm and the fruit is bubbling, it’s done. It won’t get really brown like it does in a kitchen oven.

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Remove from grill and serve right away, or let cool.

BLACK BEAN & MANGO SALSA

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I bought a couple of Ataulfo mangoes with no particular plans for them.

Just a very few of the mango varieties out there:

Mango-Varieties-courtesy-of-the-National-Mango-Board

Then it turned out there was a baseball game on TV and we would need something to snack on. So I made Black Bean & Mango Salsa. It’s now my husband’s favorite dip for chips – better than guacamole or the tomato-based salsas and pico de gallos I’ve made in the past. I guess this could be filed under Caribbean, Mexican, or world cuisine.

Lots of chopping here, but this is a great way to practice mad knife skillz, since it’ll all be tumbled together at the end anyway. And speaking of chopping: I saw a food demonstration of how to efficiently chop garlic, and it works better than a garlic press. Use a large chef’s knife (a small paring or steak knife will not work) and salt. This video describes it all (until he starts flogging garlic in a jar, which is convenient but does not taste like fresh garlic).

BLACK BEAN AND MANGO SALSA

  • 2 small (Ataulfo) or 1 large (Tommy Atkins, Haden, etc.) mango, peeled and diced small
  • 1 Anaheim chili, roasted, peeled, minced (see this for the how-tos)
  • 1 Jalapeno chili, roasted, peeled, minced (as above)
  • 1 bunch cilantro, chopped
  • 5-6 fat garlic cloves, minced (do not be tempted to skimp on the garlic!)
  • 1 can (about 16 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 small red onion, peeled and minced (about 3/4 cup)
  • 3 or 4 ripe tomatoes, diced small –  about 1 generous cup of chopped tomato (Romas are great for this, but other tomatoes work too – even cherry tomatoes if you don’t mind extra chopping)
  • juice of 1 fat lemon or 2-3 limes
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • salt to taste (if you did not use salt to mince the garlic)

Chop/prep everything and toss into a bowl as you go. Mix it up and let sit for about 20 minutes, then taste and adjust  seasoning (more lemon? More heat? More salt?).

Eat. Great with chips but also on tacos, chicken, pork chops, grilled fish, green salad, whatever.

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Variations:

  • Substitute peaches, apricots, nectarines, plums, or papaya for the mango.
  • Substitute other chilies for the Anaheim and Jalapeno.
  • Use raw minced chilies instead of roasting them.
  • Add fresh minced sweet basil.

And finally: I found this video and I have not tried it, but it looks like it would work. Just be sure to hold onto that glass (or use a plastic glass) because nothing is more slippery than a mango.

HOW TO CLARIFY BROTH

In the last post I talked about poaching chicken and having a lovely broth or stock left over as a result. Great stuff to have on hand to stir into sauces and make soup from – it’s a staple in my kitchen. The fat rises to the top when it is chilled and it’s ready to go.

But for aesthetic’s sake, sometimes you want a very clear broth instead of the murky, cloudy stock you might have – especially if the broth boiled for any length of time. It might look like this:

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There’s nothing wrong with that – unless, as I said, you want a really clear broth such as for consommé. Don’t knock consommé , and do not confuse homemade with Campbell’s Consommé  in a can, which is pretty damn salty. It’s warming on a cold night – and if it’s rich, flavorful stock with a final garnish  of a fine mince of raw vegetables (carrot, celery, turnip, onion), you have consommé brunoise, which makes an excellent recherche, non-filling  starter to an elegant dinner. (There are infinite other consommé variations, all of them delicious.)

Anyway. To clarify stock that’s muddled and cloudy, heat the strained -of-bones-and-veg stock to simmering. While it’s heating, for each quart of stock (more or less; you don’t need to be precise) beat one egg white until thick and puffy.

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Now: whisk that fluffy egg white into the simmering stock.  Stir it around a time or two, then turn the heat UP and bring the stock to a boil. Immediately turn the heat OFF again, remove the pan from the heat, and let cool to warm-ish.

DSCN1032The nice white egg white will start to look like four-day-old New York snow.

DSCN1034Now get a clean dish towel – not a terry-cloth one, unless you enjoy chewy bits in your broth – and dampen it, then wring it out. Place the towel over a wire-mesh strainer  and place that over a bowl, and pour the stock-egg mixture into the towel. Let it drain.

DO NOT DISTURB THIS. If you try to hurry it by shaking the strainer or pressing on the towel, you will get cloudy gunk in the broth, so LEAVE IT ALONE.

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End result:

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Store, covered, in the refrigerator about four days. This method works on any meat stock – chicken, beef, pork, lamb, whatever – and makes a sediment-y stock into a much more appetizing soup by itself.

POACHED CHICKEN

We were watching Rachel Ray make something-or-other when she instructed the viewer to “add the boiled chicken.” My husband said, “Boiled chicken? You just… boil a chicken?” Well, kind of, but not really. I thought of how many recipes include “3 cups diced cooked chicken.” Where do most people get that three cups of cooked chicken… do they buy one of those canned chickens (I have seen photos and that is as close as I ever intend to get to one of those)? Do they buy a rotisserie chicken? Or do they just turn to another recipe?

“Boiled” chicken is actually poached chicken. If you were to cook a chicken at a full boil for an hour…. oh God, I can’t even imagine what that would result in, but you wouldn’t want to eat it. To poach a chicken, you do bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat so it simmers. Result: lots of moist, tender chicken meat, and a bonus of delicious chicken broth.

So: put the chicken and all its guts in a stockpot (i.e. a pot that is taller than it is wide) or at least a pot that will hold the chicken comfortably. Add an onion (you don’t have to peel it – cut in half if it fits better), a carrot or two (also not peeled, but cut up), a stalk of celery (ditto), a bay leaf,  a garlic clove or two or three, and a few peppercorns.  No salt! Add cold water to cover the chicken. If you have some white wine or dry white vermouth lying around, pour a generous glug of that in too.

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Put the pot on the stove, turn the heat on high, and wait…

As the water gets closer to a boil, you will see some yucky-looking foamy grey stuff rise to the surface. Don’t flip out. It’s coagulated juices and (yes) blood. If you have ever grilled a burger, you saw the same stuff form on top of the ground beef. When protein is heated to the boiling point, this happens. Just get a spoon, scoop it off and discard it, though it isn’t toxic – it’s just unsightly.

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Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat immediately and let the chicken cook at a bare simmer. If the water level drops, add more water or white wine.

How to tell when it’s done? Poke around in the leg-thigh joint with a knife. If the juices are red or pink, it isn’t done. If they’re yellow or clear, it’s done. A 4 or 5 pound chicken will take around 60 to 80 minutes.  Now comes the messy part: getting a hot chicken out of the pot. Get a large bowl and a large carving fork, and carefully-but-quickly transfer the chicken to the bowl.  Let the chicken cool until you can easily handle it.

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Once you can handle the chicken without burning the hell out of yourself, separate the meat from the bones & skin. Put the meat in one bowl –

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and put the bones & skin back in the stockpot.

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The chicken is now ready to eat or use in any recipe calling for cooked chicken. Store, covered, in the refrigerator – it will last about four or five days.

Return the chicken broth to a simmer and cook for another hour or two. Then strain and discard the bones, skin, and vegetables. You now have a very flavorful stock that can be used right away, or poured into a hot sterilized container (such as a canning jar or two) and stored in the refrigerator. The fat will rise to the top as it cools, effectively sealing the broth; the fat can easily be lifted off and discarded (or used as schmaltz, for which I will refer you to The Shiksa Blog). It will keep for about five days in the fridge, after which it should be re-boiled and re-poured into a sterilized container. Or it freezes very well; pour it into small containers of a size you’d be likely use (such as 1-cup), or pour it into ice cube trays, freeze, and store the chicken broth cubes in a freezer bag for a very fast, convenient way to utilize them.

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