Taking stock, one set of leftover bits at a time

I needed a week to cross off a big item on the post-Thanksgiving to-do list: making stock from the remaining parts of the bird. In my defense, the three of us took that long to make enough of a dent in our half turkey before it was worthwhile picking the last meat off the carcass.

Making stock from scratch isn’t hard, but it does demand some time and cleanup. (If you homebrew beer, you may recognize some similarities.) Most of the time, I simplify this procedure by only making vegetable stock, and that’s where I’d recommend you start.

As the Washington Post’s Joe Yonan wrote several years ago, that starts with rerouting vegetable scraps to the freezer instead of a compost bin. Every time you’re chopping up veggies and have some bits you don’t want to eat–like the ends of carrots and onions, the greenest parts of leeks, or the woody stems of cauliflower or broccoli–toss them in a quart bag in your freezer. Once you have a quart’s worth, simmer them with a quart and a half of water for 30 minutes, then cool, strain and use now or freeze for later.

Turkey stock is more involved, and I decided to further complicate it Thursday night by following the advice of Serious Eats and roasting the carcass first. That proved to be an excellent idea, first because it made the kitchen smell amazing and second because it turned the last bits of turkey skin deliciously crispy and crackly.

I sauteed some leftover vegetable bits from the fridge in a pot, added the re-roasted turkey parts, threw in the most recent bag of frozen vegetable scraps and poured in enough water to cover everything.

And then I let the pot simmer for the next couple of hours while I wrestled with Christmas lights on the front porch. Straining it yielded about a quart of stock that after refrigeration, as predicted by the Serious Eats recipe, had set into a gelatinous state. I will admit that the results may look a little gross that way. But I’m sure they’re going to taste great.

Home cooking when you don’t leave home

When I used to say “I love to cook,” I was saying that with the understanding that I’d only be cooking half the dinners in the week. Work events and social outings would have me out of the house most of the rest of the time, so I would never feel stuck in a rut.

Well, I’ve now gone three and a half months in which I’ve had every single dinner at home. And while we have treated ourselves to takeout or delivery once a week or so, I’ve cooked most of the other dinners.

What have I learned, aside from profound respect for my mom who did that work for far longer and for a larger family?

The importance of leftover-friendly recipes–soups, stews, chili, stir-fries, risotto, quesadillas–is even more obvious. But cooking a main course that can become a side (risotto, again) helps a lot, and so does making sides that I can use up later on.

It’s also important to have one extra-easy-but-still-homemade option, which for somebody of Italian ancestry like me means pasta. This time of year, that becomes a canvas for whatever herbs I can grab out of the garden and throw into a garlic and olive oil sauce.

But the one thing I didn’t quite expect was how much I would still want to try something more challenging once a week–in terms of ingredients I haven’t used, a cooking technique that’s new to me, or a particularly challenging set of directions. So I’ve tried my hand at deep-dish pizza, hollandaise sauce, and chicken parmesan, among other recipes from which I’d shied away in the Before Times.

And I still look forward to that challenge, which suggests I’m not burned out on home cooking. That would be good, because a return to my old lifestyle seems farther off than it did three and a half months ago.

After the jump: Some recipes from the Post’s Food section that I’ve found particularly useful since March.

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